www.RMIUG.org
January 12th, 2004
"Starting an Internet/Software Company Today"

Minutes of the 07-13-04 meeting of the Rocky Mountain Internet Users
Group (RMIUG): "Internet Technology Trends: Still Kicking After All These Years"

The meeting started at 7:15 with about 25 people in attendance.
Josh was the only committee member in attendance and ran the meeting.
He thanked the RMIUG sponsors for their support:

___________________

MicroStaff (http://www.microstaff.com) generously provides food and
beverages at the meetings. The company provides Creative and Technical
Talent for Web, Interactive Media, Marketing Communications and Software
Development projects.

ONEWARE (http://www.ONEWARE.com) -- a Colorado-based software company that
provides semi-custom web-based applications, is the sponsor of the RMIUG
meeting minutes.

NCAR -- for the use of their wonderful facility.

Copy Diva (http://www.copydiva.com) - for the audio visual equipment.

_______________

Announcements

Jeff Herman of Boulder's Webroot Software www.webroot.com says he has
many job openings. Webroot makes Spy Sweeper, Window Washer, and
other security tools. Webroot is "growing like crazy" and repeatedly
posts on RMIUG's email list. They need c++, delphi, and QA people.
They also need research analysts who know about spyware, software
product managers, sales people, accounting folks, web developers, and
web masters. Send resumes to jeff@webroot.com or see the website for
openings.

There was a reminder of an upcoming meeting of the Rocky Mountain
Webmasters Guild (to occur before publication of these minutes). The
website is www.rmwmg.org.

A job-finding workshop in Colorado Springs has been advertised in
RMIUG. A customer testimonial claims it's worth it, provides very
useful tools for digging up those hidden jobs.

______________

Internet Technology Trends: Still Kicking After All These Years

Speakers:

Dean Rizzuto (dean@newguard.com) is Founder & President of
Boulder-based NewGuard, a strategic web solutions company. Dean has
used proven development strategies and processes that deliver cutting
edge solutions for companies like Churchill Downs, Inc., Gambro, and
The Cable Center. Dean discusses some of the latest technologies
clients are asking to implement including Weblogs, WIKIs, and Content
Management Systems. He talks about what clients really want: a good
return on their technology investment.

Joe Mease (jmease@creationchamber.com) is the Multimedia Director at
Creation Chamber (the Agency where Josh, the MC for the meeting, also
works), a Denver-based web development agency whose clients include
Denver Broncos, Colorado Crush, and MapQuest. With Joe at the helm
of its Flash development, Creation Chamber has won many awards for
his innovative design. One of his sites, Simpson Property Group
(www.simpsonpropertygroup.com) is a finalist in the Flash Film
Festival at the Flash Forward Conference in New York City. Joe talks
about trends with Macromedia Flash and how its ubiquity is not only
fueling acceptance in the marketplace, but enabling websites to
become more usable and functional.

______________

DEAN RIZZUTO

I've been involved with web more or less since it started. I was an
RMIUG speaker once before, and I thank the great leadership of this
group.

IN THE PAST: Companies would implement the coolest and newest
technologies as fast as possible at whatever cost--a very tactical
mindset that was all about being the first to use X or Y technology.
Being first at any cost (keeping up with the Jones's) was seen as
more important than applying technology strategically. Not much
thought went into choosing, evaluating, and implementing
technologies. Companies didn't focus on actual business value.
Perhaps many of us can remember what we might have participated in,
and how they were major failures. There was a great deal of the use
of technology for the sake of the technology. Like Java at first.
People did it because they could do it, not because their customers
wanted it.

NOW: It's not as much about what technology is used but how and when
the technology is used. I work with clients to build web solutions,
not web sites. A web solution is based on how the business operates
and the audienceneeds and wants. It is important to consider these
issues. For example, one of my clients is Churchill Downs, a
racetrack. Their customers who bet on the races just want quick
access to information, so it's not useful to use Flash for such an
audience.

It's also important to consider what existing technology investments
the company has. We need to make the best use of their in-house
expertise and technologies they already have. So we try to recommend
technologies that fit with prior investments.

More businesses are asking: How can internet technologies be applied
to our business to make or save money? How can technologies increase
sales or reduce costs?

What are some of the latest Internet technology trends and how can
they be used effectively? They are Content Management Systems, WIKIs,
and Weblogs.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS

A CMS allows someone with no knowledge of website creation to update
content on a website. A complex CMS like Vignette can include
content review/approval processes within the content updating system.
Vignette can be overkill in many cases, where a simpler CMS will work
better. The cost of CMS systems is coming down.

-on the web, content is king
-constant updating is required
-should be easily updated by lay people
-empowers the business to control their website.

A CMS reduces time it takes to get information to customers. A CMS
can bypass the webmaster, giving the content creator the power to
update the website directly. Good open-source php, perl, and
asp-based CMS systems are available.

Audience Comment: Sometimes it's better to free the creators from
doing the web updates so they can concentrate on the information and
not worry about using the CMS.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
WIKIs

WIKI is a collaborative software tool, like groupware. Essentially
it's a web application that allows a group of people to edit the same
document. It's good for intranet on-line collaboration inside a
company. WIKI collects information from multiple sources. It is a
popular, open-source tool. Free WIKI engines are available on
internet, and they are easy to set up. Software developers can
document their apps on the WIKI, describing any kind of behavior they
need to. At the same time the hosting folks can add their concerns to
the same WIKI, asking questions and getting answers. The WIKI helps
keep project teams communicating with one another.

A WIKI can also be a good content generating tool for a commercial
website and a good way to engage with customers. Some public WIKI
websites:

-Wikipedia: a collaborative encyclopedia where anyone adds
information on a given topic. It is an open, self-policing community,
which is typical for WIKIs. You can roll back to previous versions,
or make corrections to the current one.
www.wikipedia.com


-Javapedia: This is a Sun Microsystems website that solicits public
input. Visitors can create good engaging content for the company.
http://wiki.java.net/bin/view/Javapedia/


-DJUG Installopedia: This is a Denver Java User Group site that lists
all open-source software available, where to get it, how to install.
It includes a lot of first-hand information from people who have used
the software.
www.denverjug.org/wiki/Wiki.jsp?page=Installopedia


- - - - - - - - - - - -
WEBLOGS & SYNDICATED NEWSFEEDS

A blog is a website that contains information posted in reverse
chronological order. It's interactive, with people posting questions
and answers. An RSS feed can grab the blog info and put into an XML
format. This allows it be excreted into multiple media formats for
browsers, PDAs, and cell phones. RSS can automatically retrieve
information and feed it to these devices. Generally a News Aggregator
is the software that processes and displays an RSS feed.

For business applications, weblogs can facilitate group discussions.
RSS can support Channel Communications in which specific information
is syndicated out to others, such as business partners, via an RSS
feed. This allows you to automatically control how your partners
display the information you are providing, rather than telling them
to paste something into their website.
Some charge a fee to access their RSS feeds. It's a simple way to
incorporate content into a website. Some CMS packages incorporate RSS
feeds, so that a website can have content both generated and updated
automatically.

SUMMARY
-Use technologies strategically, not tactically.
-What are the audience's needs?
-What are the business goals?
-What existing technology investments can be used?
-How can we set up a measurement path to see if the technology is
being used effectively?

A video of this presentation will be available soon.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Sources
www.newguard.com

Download this MS PowerPoint presentation at
www.newguard.com/newsletters/rmiug/RMIUG_Presentation_July_2004.ppt

Download the video of this presentation at
http://extranet.newguard.com/video_links/rmiug_link.html


_________________

JOE MEASE

What is flash, what shouldn't it be, and where is it going?

I've been using Flash for about five years, since version 3. Back
then it was a vector-based animation tool for used for website intros
and banner ads. It was over-used and left a bad taste in our mouths.
Everyone looks for that "skip intro" button.

But now it is becoming more of business solution in the sense that
Dean described. Some 96 percent of clients have a flash plugin
installed, and it's the most popular browser plugin on the internet.
Flash features small file sizes and can be good for slow connections.
It's now getting more object oriented which also keeps downloads
small. Typically a Flash application starts with an 80k download then
only requests more as needed.

You can expect Flash to play almost the same on a mac or a pc and
across different browsers because it's handled by the flash player
and not the browser.

Joe displayed a variety of Flash implementations that he created:

-Denver Broncos game companion: This for people at home to do stuff
while the game is on. It includes chats, skits, tailgate recipes,
score prediction, and polls about the game that users can create. For
the polls, you get real-time response statistics. They had about 1800
users for first game, then later it dropped off to 700 users per game
as it was no longer new.
www.denverbroncos.com/gdx
www.denverbroncos.com/page.php?id=611.

-My Locker: This is a 32-bit client desktop application that you
download and install. Then you customize it to grab bronco news your
interested in, and it will automatically find new content and link
you to the actual article on a website. It queries the Bronco website
for news. Minimized, it looks like a little locker on the desktop.
Then you can open it up and find clickable stuff in the locker. This
might be ready by September on the Bronco site.

-Children's Museum of Denver email campaign: They collect children's
first names and birthdays and send out Flash email birthday cards.
The card puts the correct number of candles on the cake and lets the
kid blow out the candles by clicking.
www.cmdenver.org.

-Colorado Crush: This is a hybrid between Flash and HTML. Includes a
Flash banner ad and game schedule. On the schedule it animates
helmets appropriate to the teams on the schedule you're looking at.
The banner ad sells Crushware and automatically cycles through
various product sets (providing rotating thumbnail links) depending
on what the user is looking at on the page. The actual link changes
when the thumbnail changes.
www.coloradocrush.com.

-Front Range Community College. Web-based training software. This is
an online help engine design for internal users of the Front Range
Community College Intranet. It shows users how to manage/edit/create
content using visual flash-based tutorials.

-Frontier airlines (in development): They want to make pretty
terminal screens at the airport for displaying near-real-time flight
data. Can show "Now boarding" at appropriate time, include a little
news feed, etc.

-Firsthelp for Mckesson Corp (healthcare information systems): This
is a CD-ROM executable for mac and pc. It includes a streaming Flash
video format, and the user navigates from video to video to
demonstrate products.

-Communitysearch for Simpson Property Group. They wanted an interface
to allow users to drill down geographically to find available
properties. The site maps available states and the map can zoom into
a state to show cities, and then into a city to show exact property
locations. It also shows text links. We built the CMS in Flash (which
is usually not feasible)--we needed a system that allowed content
creators to drag an icon onto the flash maps to store a new city
location on the map.
www.simpsonpropertygroup.com

- - - - - - - - - -

Flash can give constant user feedback as to what's happening, such as
during a long download. It can stream and display some initial
content and entertain during the download, instead of displaying
nothing. This helps prevent users from leaving during a long download.

Audience Comment: Flash is still often just an imitation of HTML
offering no extra benefit--if I'm to wait for a Flash download, I
want a real payoff.

Flash is often not the best solution. It will be more bulky than a
lightweight HTML page. But if you need to display lots of images,
Flash becomes more useful. It can reduce the need for screen
refreshes. And you can make flash look like HTML so the user doesn't
even know it's there.

Joe showed some of his client-side Flash applications:

-Smithsonian Institute Coloring Book called "Scribble": This is
essentially a simple drawing tool with pictures. A CMS determines
what pictures are in there. Flash MX 2004 offers highly
object-oriented development, so I can customize this application for
different clients.
www.postalmuseum.si.edu/activity/coloraway/index.html

-Broncos Puzzle: This is all completely independent of server-side
technology, and all controlled with XML.

-Quicktime VR simulator: It cycles through images to simulate
user-controlled animation, with zoom, view angle, etc. It's a way to
avoid using Quicktime. The simulator is more lightweight, easier to
manage and create images, with less overhead than Quicktime movies.
This is something an Ebay seller might want to use, for example.
www.creationchamber.com/content/index.cfm?fuseaction=showContent&contentID=40&navID=40

-Chipotle's Big Buckin' Burrito animation: It's controlled with
action script and code. You can swap graphic objects within the
animation and re-skin things. Joe can easily replace the buckin'
burrito with a buckin' human. This object-oriented nature brings down
the price of Flash development.


- - - - - - - - - - -
Sources
www.creationchamber.com

________________________

QUESTIONS:

Q: How do search engines like Google deal with an all-Flash site?
Doesn't it just read HTML?

JOE: Yes, this is a problem that Google is working on. It doesn't
handle Flash content very well.
JOSH: Google is working on being able to read Flash files for content.

Q: Are object labels read by search engines?

JOE: I don't know.

Q: What about printing features?

JOE: Flash 7 is implementing some printing features. They are making
progress there. Unfortunately many people are still in version 6,
which does support printing--but it's somewhat primitive.

Q: Do you use a lot of XML?

JOE: Reading data in from XML is great. We use it a lot. You can use
"get method" to pass variables. XML is great for reading in both
static and dynamic data.

Q: How has open source affected your business?

DEAN: Very positively. With open source we often don't need to
reinvent the wheel. This reduces how much we have to customize, and
helps customers find affordable alternatives. I recommend staying
away from products that are rarely used and not supported--stick with
mainstream stuff so you can find help.

Q: Are businesses concerned with handicapped compatibility and 508 compliance?

DEAN: There is slow movement there because of costs. It takes more
time implement, so it's a cost trade-off.
JOE: Lots of cost cutting prevents this. It's harder to make
good-looking sites that are 508 compliant.

Comment: Government contracts requiring 508 compliance is a motivator.

Q: What do you want to see in the future?

JOE: Flash only supports JPEG. I want Flash to be able to load in GIF
and PNG dynamically. I'd like clients to have more resources to allow
us to push the envelope. Aside: DVDs may be obsolete in ten years,
changing how we manage digital entertainment.

DEAN: I want people to be using the web more as a business tool.
People aren't yet seeing the benefits of internet technologies
because of the black eye we all got the first time around. Flash does
solve a lot of our problems these days. The future is more about
applying existing technologies than finding new ones. I'd like to see
us educating more clients about how to use technology as a true
business tool.

Q: It's great that you can develop Flash on a Mac and find that it
just works on Linux and Unix machines. But, are there any facilities
that allow you save a place during a Flash activity?

JOE: Go to www.multidmedia.com (note the d between multi and media).
A wrapper tool called Flash Studio Pro has FS commands that can store
data from a Flash application.

=======================

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MicroStaff (www.microstaff.com), ONEWARE (http://www.ONEWARE.com), and Copy Diva (http://www.copydiva.com).

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